Virtuous Basketball

Paolo Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude: For an Analysis of Contemporary Forms of Life, p. 55:

Each one of us is, and always has been, a virtuoso, a performing artist, at times mediocre or awkward, but, in any event, a virtuoso. In fact, the fundamental model of virtuosity, the experience which is the base of the concept, is the activity of the speaker. This is not the activity of a knowledgeable and erudite locutor, but of any locutor. Human verbal language, not being a pure tool or a complex of instrumental signals (these are characteristics which are inherent, if anything, in the languages of non-human animals: one need only think of bees and of the signals which they use for coordinating the procurement of food), has its fulfillment in itself and does not produce (at least not as a rule, not necessarily) an "object" independent of the very act of having been uttered.

I would submit that the athletic basketball body also moves to fulfill itself and not to produce baskets as objects independent of the very act of having been scored. One might counter that it is the linguistic form of basketball itself — its space, time, rules, its structures-in-assembly — that provides the necessary cause for athletic bodies to produce the effect of baskets in the first instance. But this linear approach to the linguistic question does not tell the full story: athletic bodies were moving, interacting, communing, conversing long before James Naismith and his peach baskets captured them towards productive end on a court.

And this movement, which Virno might characterize as the potentiality of the utterance and which still exists in all forms of the game, whether improvisational pickup or elite-level league play, comes phenomenologically prior to any movement that is channeled towards the productivity of the basket. Hence, our participation in the game of basketball (never our consumption alone) must also be considered virtuous and inherit all of the characteristics of virtuosity that Virno wishes to ascribe to the figure of the Speaker.


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